Embarcadero Redevelopment Plan – 1959

You are invited to read the San Francisco Planning Department official Redevelopment Plan from 1959 at the following link:

http://sfredevelopment.org/index.aspx?page=56

At the link are two tabs.  One leads to the plan itself, adopted and approved by the Board of Supervisors in 1959 and thereafter amended 8 times over 36 years, most recently in 1995. It covers 51 acres of which just over 8 acres comprise the entirety of the Embarcadero Center complex.

The second tab leads to the actual layout for this master plan as it pertains to Golden Gateway.  Here can be seen the ambitious plan for new dominant office buildings and thousands of residential rental and condo units.  In green (see legend) can be seen the planning for Open Space in mitigation of that development, and clearly considered part of such green space was the plan’s explicit provision for recreational facilities, without qualitative distinction of this space from the provisions made for the public parks. The Open Space

is placed strategically in a contiguous “T” in the center of the new development. The recreational facilities are those currently maintained at the Golden Gateway Tennis & Swim Club.

So comprehensive was this master plan, with evolving planning, negotiations, and compromises for implementation extending over the terms of many Mayors and political stewards, and involving complicated land purchases,financing and the like, that the master plan and stakeholders were protected for 30 years under the terms of the plan from any modification.  The implications of granting such protection over 30 years, of course, were first one of genuine public confidence in the wisdom of the original design.  Secondly, was the the need to offer certainty for investors, lenders, residents and taxpayers.  Finally, was the recognition that changes over time may suggest that eventually the master plan should be modified.

Following the passage of time, now that the existing master plan may legally be modified, the question is whether there have been such changes in the environment, character and needs of this portion of our downtown area as would, on balance, auger for actually reducing the previously planned Open Space, swimming and tennis facilities in that open “T” of our current plan. For example, the build-out of the Embarcadero for heavy traffic and mass transit following the demolition of the Embarcadero overpass, and development of Piers 1 – 5, along with greater public uses of the area resulting from the Farmers Markets  and expanded ferry services, suggests that the area can not afford to lose any allocation of such planned open space.  If the need for enhanced open space is, in fact, indicated by events, perhaps the Lot 351 could be purchased by the City to finally fill the long neglected desire of our children for a playground in our area.

In summary, planners must take into account that despite the vast expansion in residential rental and ownership units provided both by the master plan, and subsequently by the market itself in our area, a pressing need for additional housing may eventually become apparent.  However, today we have an excess of unsold condo units in close proximity to the Financial District, and many others unsold within a short commute.  With so many economists forecasting growth rates eventually resuming to just 1, 2, or 3 percent annually, the “new economy” suggests that the unhappy trade-off of our beloved open space/recreational facilities in favor of greater development can and should be postponed at least until a need can be measured.

Moreover, and perhaps most importantly, I feel that planners should begin any analysis by referring first to the existing master plan, which was endorsed by so many officials of varying viewpoints, and which earned The City national praise.  Planners should first carefully review the existing plan, summarize the plan’s rationale and benefits to the public, and only such proposed changes as are seen, on balance, to better benefit our citizens should be proposed with explicit reference to the existing plan and the increased public benefit.

I have attended several public meetings and to date in those meetings I’ve heard no reference to our current plan. Probably few dispute that the waterfront itself requires improvement, but insofar as proposed changes could affect the existing non-waterfront master planned area, I fear that all historical memory is being lost. Our better professors told students to first “go to the source” to understand something rather than to rely on another’s interpretation. If we practice policies of ignoring the prior work and accompanying rationale of the planners preceding ours, what will be the deference paid to our current plans in the future, and if the answer is “not much” why should the public be supportive of the public process?

Charles Dutkin
FOGG Volunteer
October 2009